One thing we constantly tell Iraqis is that their world is our world.
When violence unmakes their world, our world is unmade, too. So when we partner with doctors to provide a child with a lifesaving heart surgery, we’re not only mending a little heart—we’re working through stereotypes, geographic borders, and cultural barriers to remake the world through healing.
The Remedy Fellowship in Nasiriyah is helping us carry out this vision.
Ten months since its launch, Remedy Fellowship continues to be the number one surgical training program inside Iraq. Through the work of our partners at Living Light International and the International Children’s Heart Foundation, Remedy Fellowship has already provided nearly 300 operations and over 5,000 hands-on training hours for local medical teams.
The result is simple: our world is healing. The work we pursue is becoming a reality!
More and more, Iraqi families are finding medical care within their own borders. Local doctors at the Nasiriyah Heart Center are diagnosing and operating on heart defects that were inaccessible just a year ago.
We still have a long way to go, but we are moving in the right direction.
As the world around us continues to be remade, we give thanks: to you, who donated despite the uncertainties of beginning a new program, to our partners, who worked locally and nationally to make the vision hold together, and to the Iraqi doctors and nurses whose hands have helped mend nearly 300 little hearts.
Together, we celebrate the healing that has happened with the help of Remedy Fellowship—and the healing yet to come.
Three months in a Korean ICU.
That’s what Yunus faced last year when he traveled abroad looking for a lifesaving heart surgery.
As a one-year-old with Down syndrome, Yunus journeyed to South Korea with his daddy, four complex heart defects, and the hope that their nearly 5,000-mile quest would end in healing.
But then his Korean doctor described the length of the post-op recovery period.
Unwilling to remain so far away for so long, Yunus and his dad turned around and flew back home—without surgery.
But as a little boy with a dying heart, Yunus’s opportunities for medical care in Iraq were also scarce.
That is, until his family discovered the Remedy Fellowship program in Nasiriyah.
This program, which began in August 2012, is the result of a collaboration between us, Dr. Novick’s team from the International Children’s Heart Foundation, Living Light International, and local surgeon Dr. Akeel.
The 48-week-long training course instructs Iraqi doctors so children like Yunus can receive care from local, well-equipped surgical teams.
And in February, he did. Yunus and his family traveled south to Nasiriyah, where he received the lifesaving medical care he needed and drove home to recover.
We saw him again two weeks ago in northern Iraq, visiting Dr. Kirk’s team from For Hearts and Souls for a follow-up screening—his local doctor had noticed a dangerous amount of fluid filling in around Yunus’ heart and advised his family to see the international team. Dr. Kirk confirmed that the fluid needed to be drained, so he sent Yunus and his family down to Nasiriyah—back to Remedy Fellowship—to receive care once more.
Yunus is back home now, and doing well.
He won’t need to travel across the world for surgery or checkups anymore—no one will ever ask him to spend three months in an ICU thousands of miles from home—because heart surgery shouldn’t require world travel.
The Remedy Fellowship program gives Iraqi children like Yunus the gift of high-quality medical care in their own country—so when they get sick, they won’t have to travel the world in search for healing.
Today is the last day of our Remedy Mission here in Najaf!
We still have a full day’s work before we head home tomorrow, but here are some highlights as we wrap up Remedy Mission XVI.
—Getting to meet Hama, Kadeeja, Musa, Ali, Diya, Shakir, Mohammed, Noor, Zainab, Zahara, Mahdi, and Yousef. All twelve of those children received lifesaving operations this trip!
—Watching one of our local heart surgeons completely correct a heart defect – without any help!
—Witnessing our cardiologists screen close to 200 more children.
—Sitting down with the local medical team to talk about longterm development and the training they want to receive this next year.
—Being overwhelmed by the gratitude and joy expressed by all the families of those we served this mission.
Thank you so much for making this mission possible.
I’ve said this before, but we haven’t provided a single heart surgery in Iraq apart from the support and generosity of others.
You give; a child is saved; peace is waged. It’s a cycle we can’t continue without you, so thank you!
As soon as I leave here, we’ll start preparing for two more Remedy Missions this month in the cities of Fallujah and Tikrit.
You can be a part of the community that makes those operations possible by donating a few dollars below.
Peace from Najaf.
|Give now to bring hope to families in Tikrit!|
This afternoon, Hama gets to pack his bags and walk out of the hospital with a fixed heart.
He gets to leave behind the surgeons, the nurses, and the heart defect that almost took his life. Now he gets to go home with his mom and dad, breathe a little bit easier, and start to experience life without a heart defect.
Hama’s dad said it best when he emphatically said, “thank you, thank you, thank you!”
Thank you helping save Hama’s life.
There hasn’t been one heart surgery in Iraq that didn’t have the backing of others.
You continue to make all the difference for these children.
Meanwhile, the operating team hasn’t slowed down. They’ve already saved 9 lives and they’re hoping to save another 3 more before we wrap up the mission!
I walked into the ICU today to check on Hama but he wasn’t there. This is great news!
On my way to the hospital this morning, Hama was having his wires, tubes, and IV’s removed because he was given the green light to leave the ICU.
By the time I arrived, he was already upstairs in the hospital ward.
Walking into his room was a welcomed change of pace for everybody. The room wasn’t full of monitors and rusty oxygen tanks. It didn’t even have any nurses in it. It was just him and his mom and Tom & Jerry on the television.
The things we got to talk about today are completely different than before. Instead of talking about the operation and the risks involved, now we’re talking about what lies ahead. Things like when he can play soccer again, when he can swim, and when the scar will be his only memory of his heart defect.
These are the best conversations to be a part of.
Thanks for showing your support for Hama. He’s almost home!
You know that old Chinese proverb that says, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”?
It’s true. In fact, I remind myself of this on a weekly basis. It’s an ethos that defines and directs our vision for Iraq.
And that’s why none of us will say our jobs are easy.
If we’ve ever made these lifesaving heart surgeries and our vision of developing heart centers across the country look easy—it’s not. In fact, it’s the most challenging vision we’ve ever tied ourselves to.
I love fishing but teaching a man how to fish isn’t the same as teaching a man how to delicately correct a heart defect, and throwing another fish in the boat isn’t the same as helping a sick child recover in the ICU.
But the principle holds fast—if all we do is provide lifesaving heart surgeries, our impact is immediate and measurable. If we teach locals how to provide these lifesaving surgeries, our impact is enduring and immeasurable.
Just providing lifesaving heart surgeries would be much easier for us as an organization. It would take a huge burden off of our minds and souls each week. We would succeed a lot more at our work. We certainly wouldn’t fear failure as much.
The only problem is that it’s too small of a vision. There’s a greater vision out there for Iraq, but it involves a whole lot of risk, sweat, and the possibility of setbacks and failure.
If we’re going to fail at something, we want it to be something worth failing for.
Every child in Iraq deserves to be within a day’s drive of a lifesaving heart surgery, and we think that’s worth going toe-to-toe with setbacks and failure.
Why am I talking about this?
Because it’s something I’m dealing with right now on this Remedy Mission.
There have been five lifesaving heart surgeries so far—which is great!
But, remember? It’s not all about surgeries. It’s about teaching and developing a local healthcare system that can do this all on their own one day. And, honestly, that vision has had a lot of setbacks this mission.
Mistakes have been made. Things have had to be taught again. We’ve taken a step back in some areas and in other areas we’ve had to go back to the very beginning.
It’s just an occasional reality in development, and it’s the reality right now for our work in this heart center.
But we press on. We teach it again. We go back to the beginning and retrace our steps.
We’ll wake up tomorrow, grab our fishing poles, and get back to teaching because, some days, it’s just a tough day fishing.
So what visions are you backing right now? Are they too small but guarantee success every time? Or are they big and worthy enough to take risks and face setbacks for?
Is there a place for failure and setback in development work?
I hope so. If anybody tells or tries to show you different, I would question their vision.
Iraq is loud.
Even in the hospital the noise is overwhelming at times. Cars are honking outside, trying to make their way out or into the already overcrowded parking lot. Rusted oxygen tanks are being rolled down the ward to replenish the cache in the ICU. Hospital gurneys are clamoring their way down the ward, bumping into food carts and abandoned wheelchairs.
Sometimes the best way to communicate is by overpowering all the noise, and, sometimes, it just takes a whisper.
I walked into the ICU today to see this little boy with his daddy. Dr. Sanchez was screening him while his big eyes were glued to the image of his heart pulsing on the echo machine; his dad leaned over the bed whispering words into his ear.
Because of the noise, I can’t tell you what he was saying but I can tell you that it made all the difference for his son.
If this were your son, what would you be whispering in his ear?
What would you tell these kids as they wait to hear if their heart defect is fixable or not?
Let us know—we’ll pass it on!
Hama made it through those first crucial hours in the ICU.
The correction made on his heart continues to hold fast as the rest of his body adjusts to a fully-functioning heart. In between surgeries today, Hama’s dad came into our break room to say “thank you, thank you, thank you!”
These next 8 years will look completely different for Hama and his family. No more searching, no more waiting—just a whole lot of living.
Now, we just need to get him well enough to leave the ICU.
It took the surgeons five and a half hours, but they were able to completely correct Hama’s heart defect.
Did you catch that? It was a complete correction; an absolute victory; a complete undoing of a previously life-threatening heart defect. This is as sweet as it gets in the operating room!
Hama was rushed out of the operating room just as quickly as he was rushed in. Now his battle moves from an operating table to an intensive care bed.
The entire medical team is gathered around Hama, monitoring his heart and ready to help his body adjust to a fully-functioning heart. His heart defect may not exist anymore, but how his body responds to the operation will determine everything.
As he gets settled into the ICU, I should know more about how he’s doing. These next few hours are crucial for him.
“We can fix Hama’s Heart.”
That has to be the best thing I’ve heard all mission.
But for Hama’s parents, that’s the best thing they’ve heard in 8 years. That’s how long they’ve been waiting to find someone who could and would fix Hama’s heart defect.
What they’ve heard these past 8 years have been statements like:
“We don’t know how to fix this.”
“The only way you can save Hama is if you leave Iraq.”
“Even if we knew how to save him, there are hundreds waiting in front of him for this same surgery.”
Being able to watch 8 year-old Hama get carried into the operating room was nothing short of exhilarating for me.
But watching their son being carried into the O.R. isn’t what Hama’s parents have waited 8 years for. No, they’ve waited 8 years for their child to be carried out of the O.R.—without a heart defect.
Hamma’s 8 year wait for a surgery is over. But it’s what comes after the operation that everybody’s on pins and needles for.
Stay tuned, Hama is in surgery now.